Raps (10-14) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (22-4) – 3 keys to keeping it close


The Toronto Raptors, fresh off an OT victory in Dallas, face an NBA buzzsaw in Oklahoma City tonight. The Thunder return home, where they are undefeated in 13 games so far, after winning their ninth straight in San Antonio. OKC is so talent-rich that they could afford to ship out James Harden, a brilliant guard, for salary cap reasons prior to last season, and not miss him or a beat.

Dec 21, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates a score with forward Kevin Durant (3right) during the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at AT

Dec 21, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates a score with forward Kevin Durant (3right) during the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at AT

Kevin Durant is the league’s highest scorer. The skinny small forward shoots effectively from all over the court, pulls down a ton of rebounds, and is happy to dish the ball to the tune of almost 5 assists per game. He’s the player Rudy Gay fancies himself to be, but isn’t a shadow of. Russell Westbrook at point guard is another MVP candidate; he’s tall enough to shoot over his opposite number, and lightening-fast on his feet. Kyle Lowry will need a lot of help when this guy decides to penetrate. Westbrook will look to pass to skywalking power forward Serge Ibaka, who is also an elite shot blocker and rebounder. Thabo Sefolosha is a defensive-minded shooting guard. Veteran centre Kendrick Perkins will bother Jonas Valanciunas.

Off the bench, the Thunder call on youngsters Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson, both of whom I’d take on the Raptors in an instant. Veteran Nick Collison and rookie Steven Adams are more than solid in the front court. In short, this team is loaded.

If the Raptors are going to grab an upset win, they must:

  • hit their outside shots. Points in the paint will be hard to come by, unless Ibaka gets in foul trouble. Playing inside-out, with JV passing to Terrence Ross for corner 3-balls, is a sensible tactic.
  • slow the game down. OKC might be the fastest team on the planet. If the Raps can lull them with lots of ball movement leading to late-clock shots, the Thunder will be out of their comfort zone.
  • put Patrick Patterson on Durant. PP is the only Rap with the footspeed and size to stay with Durant, who’s the key to their offense.

The Thunder have scored over a hundred points in each of their last 10 games, helping them maintain their average of 106 for the season. If Toronto can somehow keep OKC in the 90s, they will have a chance. I’m not counting on it, and I expect the Thunder to prevail 109-100.

Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.

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